Homeless Families on the Rise

But community services are increasing
By Jeremy Flannery

The number of homeless families continues to rise in the United States, according to the 2009 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Over 170,000 American families used emergency shelters or transitional housing in 2009, compared to 131,000 families in 2007, about a 30 percent increase since 2007. The average lengths of stays of families in shelters also increased from 30 days in 2008 to 36 days in 2009. About 535,000 homeless people, as part of families, used emergency shelters or transitional housing in 2009.
“Three-fifths of the people in homeless families are children, and more than half of the children are under age 6,” the report says.
There might be more families at risk of becoming homeless, as the report found that families entering homeless shelters are increasingly coming from other housed situations, such as doubling up with friends or other family members.
But the issue of homelessness is witnessing some improvements in the United States, according to HUD:
• The number of chronically homeless people decreased by 10 percent from 124,135 in the January 2008 point-in-time (PIT) estimate to 110,917 in the January 2009 PIT estimate. About 53 percent of the reports from local continuums of care showed a decrease in chronic homelessness.
• 112 more communities used the Homeless Management Information System, the electronic system used to track services of homeless shelters, for a total of 334 participating communities.
• The number of beds in permanent supportive housing increased from 2008 to 2009 by about 23,000, for a total of over 219,000 beds.
• Though the number of homeless people remained fairly stable, with about 643, 067 homeless Americans on a single night, the number of sheltered homeless is increasing, according to the report. This number might be due to the increased participation of communities tracking homelessness and the success of sheltering homeless Americans, according to the report.
• Nearly 1.56 million people used an emergency shelter or transitional housing program from October 2008 through September 2009, compared to 1.6 million in 2008. Two-thirds were homeless as individuals and one-third were homeless as family members – at least one adult with one child under 18 years of age.
Individuals experiencing homelessness tend to be adult males, members of a minority group and middle aged, the report says.
“More than 10 percent are veterans, and more than 40 percent have a disability,” the report states. Family members experiencing homelessness tend to be children – about 60 percent – or adult women under age 31 without male partners.